At last the big reveal

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I’m very proud and excited to be able to announce the upcoming release of my new album, FACING THE FALLING SKY. The album will be released this Autumn, on CD, download and streaming on all the usual platforms.

It’s been an interesting experience recording this album. I never intended for there to be such a big break between releases after Dark Moons & Nightingales was issued in 2009. But a lot has happened in the intervening time.

In the spring of 2010, I left London and moved to Scotland, to the Orkney Islands, where I set up my studio, Starling Recording Studio. In 2016 my good friend and biggest musical inspiration, Keith Emerson, died. We also lost my father-in-law that year, as well as several iconic musical artists, so it was a difficult year, and made working on music too painful for me for a time. Along the way, I had a couple of scary health issues, culminating with a serious spinal operation on my neck last year. All of this took time away from the production, and repeatedly delayed work on the album.

Things are happier and healthier now, and it was gratifying to receive an email the other day confirming that the CDs for Facing The Falling Sky had gone into production – on the first anniversary of my spinal surgery.

I’m thrilled to have been able to use the stunning cover photo, taken by Graham Simpson here in Orkney. It’s an extraordinary image, and sums up the album quite well.

The cover and title aren’t meant to be bleak – there is courage in facing up to things, even when it feels as though the sky is falling in.

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The cover of my new album, Facing The Falling Sky, using a photograph by Graham Simpson

This is the first time that I have used ProTools to record one of my albums, allowing me to experiment more with sound, using sample libraries, loops and my own ambient recordings to add to the music. This led to some fun additions to some tracks, including a theremin, Stylophone and even kazoo and wooden frog! I also rediscovered my love of just playing around with synthesizers; I still own my very first synth, a Korg Mono/Poly bought in 1983. It makes a couple of appearances on the album.

You’ll find the music has a much wider palette of sounds, and more adventurous arrangements, than I have previously used. I also play more guitar on this album than before.

I was very lucky to have some fabulous talent play on a couple of the tracks. Guitarist/producer Arron Storey guests on lead guitar, while violinist Fiona Driver and cellist Linda Hamilton contribute gorgeous strings. It was mastered brilliantly as always by Adam Helal of 2020 Audio in London.

So watch this space – I will be announcing the release date soon, and there will be a single from the album released shortly. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the brief preview of the new album at the top of this post.

Kathie Touin

PS If you’d like to find out more about my previous releases please visit my website, www.kathietouin.com. Downloads are on iTunes, Amazon, Google, CDBaby and the usual outlets.

 

A silver anniversary

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Soliloquy

The cover of the original release of Soliloquy (Image: Kathie Touin)

With some amazement I can tell you that it was 25 years ago when I released my first CD, Soliloquy, a collection of solo piano pieces, plus one original composition of my own. It came out on the Sundown Records label and made its way around the world, getting airplay in Korea and sales in China as well as in many shops across the United States.

I remember the recording being a fraught process – it was done on a hired grand piano in the living room of the house where I was living. The entire album was recorded live to ADAT stereo, so everything was done in single takes with no overdubs or edits. This meant that sometimes takes were ruined by unexpected noises. On one memorable occasion I was just finishing yet another take of Clair De Lune, and breathing a sigh of relief, only to have it ruined as someone in the house flushed a toilet!

I was a new artist so didn’t have much say in the production or mastering. But in 2007 I had the resources to get the album remastered and was able to fix one or two things I’d always been unhappy about.

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Nancy Burdikin’s painting was used for the cover of Soliloquy Deluxe (Image: Kathie Touin)

The result was Soliloquy Deluxe, with new specially-commissioned artwork by Nancy Burdikin and extra bonus tracks. A change that had been made to the opening track during the original mastering session was removed and the sound throughout improved.

Now, to mark the silver anniversary of my very first release, I’m offering a free download of the appropriately named original composition, Silver Song, through CD Baby.

Later this year I’ll be releasing my next album, so watch this space for more information, announcements and special offers!

In the meantime, please go to my CD Baby store and get your free Silver Song download.

And if you’d like an autographed copy of Soliloquy Deluxe, or any of my other CDs, please visit my website: www.kathietouin.com

Thanks for listening!
Kathie Touin

Moving to the pink room

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Ready to record vocals at Starling Recording Studio

Ready to record vocals at Starling Recording Studio (Image: Kathie Touin)

Surprise! Yes, I’m actually posting a blog. Try not to be too shocked. It’s said that if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything. For me it’s more a case of if I haven’t got anything to say – then I don’t write any blogs!

As I’ve mentioned before, there are only so many times you can say ‘I’m still working on my new album…’

I’m happy to say that real progress has been made here at Starling Recording Studio, and all the main instrument tracking has been completed (feel free to applaud, or to mutter ‘it’s about time!’).

Next, because I’m engineering for myself, I am decamping from the studio control room into the ‘live’ room (otherwise known as the pink room due to the former occupant’s vibrant choice of colour). There I’ll put down the vocals and some acoustic guitar tracks which need to be recorded with microphones.

This is exciting but also scary. Exciting because it means I’m a step closer to mixing and finally finishing the album.

But scary because vocals are probably the most important thing on the recording. I can spend ages getting just exactly the right EQ and reverb settings and carefully recording the best sound on an instrument that I can get, but if the singing sounds bad no one will want to listen to it. Least of all me.

I have the fun of an added challenge. When I came to sing on my previous album, Dark Moons & Nightingales, I seemed to be struggling with my voice. I got through the recording, but as time went on the problems got worse.

Then after I moved to Orkney I was sent to the Voice Clinic at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. They discovered that during a surgery I had in 2006, in London, a breathing tube that was put down my throat dislocated an important bit of cartilage in my larynx.

Over the past few years I’ve had wonderful help from speech therapists and a singing coach and they’ve got me going again, but my voice is still a bit unreliable.

Recording the vocals for this album will be its first big test.

Wish me luck!

Kathie Touin

Happy New Year?

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Late winter sunrise in Orkney, from our house

At last 2016 has ground to a halt, and we can look forward to a bright, shiny new year. Of course I know that our delineation of time is nothing more than a device we created, but after this past year I think many of us are grasping for a bit of hope.

There is a sort of comfort in hearing so many people saying they felt 2016 was particularly difficult. I’m sure there is a statistical explanation for why we seemed to lose so many famous or well-known people, though the list of names lost in 2016 does feel quite staggering. And with the proliferation of social media, I was more conscious of the number of people who lost parents, in particular, this year.

For myself, I lost two people who loomed large in my life. As I wrote in my previous blog posting, the death of musician Keith Emerson hit me very hard.

And, not long after Keith died, my father-in-law passed away from complications following a difficult surgery for cancer. While I always suspected he was secretly horrified that his only son married an American, he was always a part of our lives. I have memories of holiday excursions with him as he got older, and his stoical suffering through my early attempts at an English Christmas dinner. He quickly learned to keep his head down when his daughter-in-law was having hysterics in the kitchen. But I am grateful to him for accepting me into the family, and most of all, for providing me with Graham.

I won’t get into politics here, but 2016 was the year for overturned expectations. While I’m desperately fearful for what may become of the USA, my country of birth, I’m clinging to the hope that there are many good people out there who will fight for what it originally stood for. For now, I feel I can only watch and wait. And wonder what our next trip to visit my family will be like.

But there were good things for me in 2016. A year ago I started the slow recovery from undiagnosed Pernicious Anaemia which had meant I’d had to sit out most of 2015. I watched proudly as Graham’s involvement in the HMS Hampshire memorial project played out (links below). We had a restorative holiday in North Wales where I got to fulfill a dream by spending a night in the village of Portmeirion. And we had a ‘family’ holiday to the island of Sanday, where our rescue collie got to be ‘explorer dog’ and dig up some of the most exquisite beaches in Orkney.

This year I found myself really embracing the cosiness of Christmas. Everything was decorated, and I hung lights everywhere. The promise of the light returning at the Winter Solstice was keenly felt. It felt good to be home, tucked up safely, despite the winter storms we had raging outside. I felt it was one I would remember for a long time, because at least for the moment, we’d made it safely through the darkness.

I’ve never been a big believer in New Year resolutions. Aside from the obvious goal of getting my new album finished this year (no, really!), I have decided that I will choose to be brave in the face of what may come. I spent far too much time in 2016 dreading and fearing what might happen next. Now I am going to wait for things to happen before I get afraid – but then I will deal with them with as much quiet strength as I can muster. Bad things will happen. But good things happen, too.

I remember very clearly the morning after I heard the news that Keith Emerson had taken his own life. I was in the car with Graham and I just remember looking around at the cars and people moving through the landscape, and saying ‘Everything looks so normal.’ My world had shattered – but everything was carrying on just the same.

So all being well, the sun will rise again, however changed the world it illuminates, and I will carry on.

And get that album finished.

Kathie Touin

January 2017

Kitchener & HMS Hampshire Memorial blog

Graham Brown’s blog

Portmeirion, North Wales

Isle of Sanday visitor information

 

Goodbye and Farewell, Keith Emerson

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Keith Emerson and Kathie Touin

Keith and the author at the Wiltern Theater, Los Angeles, in 1993 after an Emerson, Lake & Palmer concert (photo: © Kathie Touin)

Last night I was stunned to hear the news that Keith Emerson had died. This morning it seems that he killed himself. I’m heartbroken and devastated beyond words, but I feel I need to say something about what he has meant to me.

Keith’s music crashed into my life 34 years ago and turned everything upside down. He is the reason I became a professional musician and have spent my life trying to live up to the standard he set for rock keyboardists. His work has kept me going through some of the darkest days of my life, and helped me celebrate some of the brightest.

I met Keith 21 years ago and we became friends. He was funny, kind, generous, silly, occasionally thorny and never anything less than supportive of my music.

Kathie Touin, Keith Emerson and Charlie 1993

Myself with Keith wearing a t-shirt bearing my cockatiel’s namesake, Charlie Parker (photo: © Kathie Touin)

I haven’t seen him often over the past few years, though we’ve stayed in touch. I was delighted to be able to attend his concert at the Barbican in London last July and give him a long-overdue hug.

His was an immense talent, and I’m struggling to accept that his voice is now silent. It’s unthinkable that I won’t get a ridiculous email in my inbox, or be able to pick up the phone and listen to his wild tales of life during ELP’s heyday.

I was recording the string part on a song for my new album yesterday, probably at the time this awful event was playing out halfway across the world in Santa Monica, California. Though I’d written the song about someone else, the lyrics seem almost eerily appropriate now. But then Keith and I always had an uncanny connection.

I thought I’d post the lyrics here as a tribute to Keith, though the song won’t be completed for a little while yet.

Thank you, Doctor Emo. I will miss you terribly. But we will still connect every time I sit at the piano and play your music.

Lotsa luv,

Kathie Touin

BETWEEN HEAVEN AND THE SKY

The leaves were drifting down
when I heard the lonely sound
a barren fruit tree in the wind
that lost its voice that once could sing

And underneath a rosy moon
I knew that you’d be leaving very soon
but you were never meant for me
You were far too rare a thing

You always moved through the world
like a ghost
Darker than ocean
and paler than sky
Like a cup that has broken
you fill me but I lose you
somewhere amongst all the stars
where you shine

I never thought you’d come to stay
an errant star that rainy day
but how was I to ever know
How deep your footprints on my soul

You always moved through the world
like a ghost
Darker than ocean
and paler than sky
Like a cup that has broken
you fill me but I lose you
somewhere amongst all the stars
where you shine

Somewhere between heaven and the sky
I hope you have found the answers why
You dog-eared the pages of my past
I hope you’ve found calmness and peace at least

And now I wander here alone
beneath a sky so wildly blown
but I can hear you calling me
that cloudy voice I’ll always know

You always moved through the world
like a ghost
Darker than ocean
and paler than sky
Like a cup that has broken
you fill me but I lose you
somewhere amongst all the stars
where you shine

© K. Touin 2014/2016 (BMI)

Thank you, Sir George Martin

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Sir George Martin, Sir Paul McCartney and John Lennon in the studio (image © Rex Features)

Yesterday I was working on a string trio arrangement for one of the tracks on my new album. This morning I woke to the news that Sir George Martin had died. I would probably never have thought to use a string trio on this song without the influence of Sir George.

I became obsessed with the Beatles at the age of seven. When I was 10 I formed a group with three of my best friends – myself on piano, with all of us singing. We were going to perform Beatles songs. I called the group Sgt Pepper’s Mini Hearts Club Band. Apparently, as musical director; I was a bit of a tyrant, as everyone quit not long after. Clearly, I was already a musical genius, destined for greatness. If everyone else would just listen to me.

Pretty much everything I know and understand about production and arranging I learned from listening to Sir George’s work with The Beatles. I religiously worked out the vocal harmonies listening to their records (yes, records. I am that old). I was fascinated by how they all fit together. I listened avidly with headphones, working out the strange sounds of the Revolver album and was ecstatic when I heard the stories about randomly-assembled tape loops, microphones in buckets and other adventurous techniques they pioneered in the studio. Most likely to the horrors of the engineers.

I badgered my parents about buying me the Holy Grail of sheet music – the massive, Beatles Complete in its Bible-black cover with gold lettering. Badgered and badgered as only I could as a child, until my dad snapped one day and said, ‘You’re getting it for your birthday! Now shut up about it.’ Then I felt guilty for weeks because I’d spoiled their ‘surprise’.

My copy was literally falling apart before too long as I worked through the songs, learning the chords and being simply amazed by the perfection of the harmonies in If I Fell, and the heart-rending beauty of For No One. It still makes me cry. I was outraged to discover some of the songs had been transposed to make them easier to play. But that was probably the first time I truly understood how transposing worked, as I set myself the task of learning them in the correct key. I made notes in the margins, corrected incorrect chords or melody lines. I analysed it until I understood the bones of the songs.

And only then I began to understand how it was the cladding of those bones which made them more than well-crafted and unique. It was the production that made them stratospheric. Yes, the Beatles themselves contributed massively to the sounds of their albums and arrangements. McCartney’s insistence that the strings on Yesterday be played without vibrato for instance. But it was George Martin who gave them the means and the insight.

I never intended to get into production myself. It happened a bit like singing for me. I didn’t like the way others sang my songs, so I did them myself. Still the musical tyrant I was at 10, I like having control. I like taking my time, and getting it to sound like it does in my head.

So aged 18 I started with a slightly-defective Tascam four-track, multi-tracking vocals until the tape was so saturated there was more noise than signal. I moved on to ADAT, working with a partner then who taught me a lot about the basics of production. Several experiments with reel-to-reel tape of various widths followed, and then my ex bought a 16-track digital hard-disk recorder which I worked hard to understand.

When I married Graham and moved to London, our tiny spare bedroom became my studio and I was able to indulge in a then state-of-the-art 24-track hard-disk recorder and Roland Fantom S-88 workstation (both of which I still have). I did my Butterfly Bones and Dark Moons & Nightingales albums on that 24-track.

Then we moved to Orkney in 2010, and I set up Starling Recording Studio. I’m now fully immersed in the digital world, using Pro Tools, plug-ins, virtual instruments and strange sample libraries. I love my studio, and am never happier than when sat here messing around with sound. The songs are still the focus but, now more than ever, the production has become an amazing playground for me.

I fully credit Sir George Martin for my interest in all this. He made messing around with sound full of limitless possibility. He was the first person to make the production almost as important as the music, but always made it serve the song.

I started out devouring Beatles sheet music, and now find myself scouring Mark Lewisohn’s The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions for ideas and techniques. Even now, some 40 years after I first became obsessed with them, I still hear things in the new Beatles mixes Giles Martin has done with his dad that make me wonder ‘how did they do that?’.

 

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The author at the Steinway grand piano in Abbey Road Studios Studio Two

A few years ago I was lucky enough to visit the inner sanctum of Abbey Road Studios where The Beatles recorded most of their tracks. I stood on those stairs in Studio Two and played the Steinway grand that just possibly Sir Paul McCartney may have recorded on. It did indeed feel like a pilgrimage, and it was magic.

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The famous stairs of Studio Two

Thank you, Sir George, for making our world a more aurally fascinating place. You were amazing and brilliant, and I’m so grateful for everything you helped to create. And that means everything from Right Said Fred (as recorded by Bernard Cribbins) to A Day In The Life. There aren’t very many music professionals who have actually changed the world. But you certainly did. Thank you.

Kathie Touin

My Life In Pianos

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My new Blüthner grand piano

The day my new piano came home

The other day I cleaned my grand piano. I can’t begin to communicate what a monumental statement that is for me. It’s not that it was that dirty it’s just that for as long as I can remember, I’ve dreamed of owning a grand piano, but it never worked out for me.

That is until this September when my beautiful 1929 walnut finish six foot Blüthner grand was delivered and (eventually) coaxed into the house.

For years I suffered from terrible piano envy. I would watch TV programmes with people pontificating from an armchair with what was obviously a very expensive, often seemingly unused Steinway or other grand piano in the background. Usually the piano was being used to prop up various picture frames, or even worse, flower vases.

Now I just grimace a bit at the waste of a beautiful instrument and chuckle because I now have my own. And it is entirely free of picture frames, flowers vases or fringed throws.

My very first piano was an 1898 Köhler and Campbell full upright player piano, also called a pianola. It played like a normal piano, but would also play from a roll inserted in the front of the case. It worked by pumping a pair of foot pedals which controlled a pneumatic mechanism inside. The rolls had perforated holes that corresponded to the keys, so when a hole passed over the trackerboard the key would play.

My uncle's player piano

Me at 8 years old at my uncle’s player piano, similar to the one we owned.

I adored it. It had a strange grainy finish that we suspected was mahogany underneath, ivory keys that were chipped along the edges and sliced your thumb when you attempted glissandi, and the tone would change depending on the weather. It came with a huge selection of rolls. The bellows had a leak so it was a test of endurance to get through a roll. My parents would occasionally have parties and challenge someone to get all the way through Rhapsody In Blue without passing out.

I used to love digging through the really old antique rolls. They were songs I didn’t know, and the rolls were so old they were tattered around the edges so you would get the odd stray note sounding in the bass or very high treble.

When I was a teenager and decided I was going to be a rock star, I stupidly asked my parents to sell the lovely old piano so I could buy an electric one. What a mistake. I didn’t realise the difference it made practising on a ‘real’ piano, so when I got serious about going to music college and began practising six hours a day, we had to rent a small, ugly upright acoustic.

I picked this piano out of loads of more attractive ones because I liked the tone and the heavier action on it. The salesman tried to talk me into something prettier. I think I must have thought it made me a better pianist practising on a heavy action, but I think in the end all it did was injure me. This was a little Kawai and I really liked it. I had it in my bedroom so I could practise whenever I wanted to. I must have driven my parents mad.

During this time, in order to fit in enough practice hours, I was also using two different pianos at my high school. One was a darling old full upright that this lovely, slightly eccentric English teacher had in her classroom. She’d taken a liking to me and invited me to come in after school and play on it for an hour or so while she graded papers.

The band teacher already had a pianist in the school orchestra, but accepted me in the class so that I could spend the class time practising on the school’s prized Steinway grand, which lived in a cupboard in the cafeteria/auditorium. I used to wheel this big black instrument out, peel back the cover, and play furiously for the 50 minutes allocated to me. I never knew what the cafeteria staff made of this, as they were preparing for the lunch rush, but I did catch them watching me a few times.

For a long time after I left school, there were no significant pianos in my life. After high school I attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. The practice pianos there were so well-used that the action was terrible on them. This made it a challenge to go in and perform for an adjudication or exam on a proper grand piano in the piano department, where it felt to me like playing on a lead keyboard. When I returned to California, I flitted from place to place, and only ever had a (very nice) Roland digital to practice on, but it wasn’t the same.

After a few years, when I thought I’d found a place I’d like to stay for awhile, I bought an old battered upright off a friend. He was reluctant to part with it, but couldn’t keep it and I paid too much money for it, even though it still wasn’t very much. It sounded terrible, but at least it was an acoustic. I set about cleaning it, even taking the action out and apart and cleaning it thoroughly before piecing it all back together again. I was very proud of myself for actually getting it back in working order, until I made the mistake of trying to put the action back in without help and got it jammed inside the piano. This story still makes my mom laugh.

I sold that piano when I moved north to Washington State in the 1990s. Again I was piano-less for some time, but eventually came across one that someone was giving away to anyone who could take it away. It was another old upright, of similar age to the previous one. It didn’t sound much better but it had a beautiful old hand-carved cabinet. I loved the look of it.

Eventually, after I’d moved to Seattle, I got rid of that one (though I wanted to keep the music stand, it was so gorgeous). I was finally earning enough money teaching piano lessons to buy a ‘proper’ piano (e.g. one that wasn’t 100 years old and falling apart). I made the mistake of trusting the local used car salesman – sorry, piano dealer – who assured me the shiny black Kawai upright I was buying was not a grey market one. These were pianos that, at the time, had been manufactured for East Asian countries and were not designed for the Western U.S. climate but were still appearing on the U.S. market. When it started to have problems and I got a technician in, he said the glue was coming apart inside and its days were probably numbered without expensive restoration. I was devastated, as I really loved the instrument, and felt I’d been taken advantage of. I was so proud that I’d been able to buy a ‘good’ piano with my own money, and felt terribly cheated.

When I met my husband and knew I would be moving to London to a flat up two flights of twisty stairs, I realised I’d have to sell the Kawai. I was back to practising on a new digital, which was wonderful but still not the real thing. I discovered you could book the rehearsal rooms at Steinway Hall in Central London so I’d go there occasionally and indulge myself in playing a wonderful grand piano, hoping there wasn’t anyone famous next door.

Starling Recording Studio

The lower keyboard is the Roland I used to pracise on in our London flat. It’s now in my recording studio.

After seven years, we decided to move to Orkney. Out of the proceeds of the sale of the flat, I was going to buy myself a piano. I had dreams of a grand, even a baby grand if it had to be, and went shopping. I found exactly what I was looking for – a 1930s Bluthner six foot grand. It was beautiful, and sounded amazing. It was also £18,000. About £15,000 more than my budget.

I let myself be talked into a Weber 48” upright with a ridiculously shiny, high-gloss cherrywood finish. It is a gorgeous thing, though hard to keep fingerprints off the lacquer. It has a really good, strong tone and feels good to play. I was so happy to have it, though trying hard to stuff down the disappointment at still not being able to afford a grand piano. It was, up till then, the best piano I’d ever owned.

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My beautiful shiny Weber upright.

Occasionally here in Orkney I would go to Stromness Town Hall and play their Steinway grand (since replaced by a Fazioli). I would come home in a foul mood, suffering from the green-eyed grand piano jealousy monster.

Then three months ago the most amazing email came into my inbox while I was on the Isle of Wight on holiday. Someone I knew was replacing her grand piano with a new one – with a Kawai, as it happened.

Her piano was my dream piano (well, the next one down from the Bosendorfer 7′ I knew I would never, ever be able to afford): a 1929 Blüthner six foot grand. I was stunned. I had no idea how we would afford it, but it just had to happen.

And it did. It sits in the hall across from my shiny, pretty Weber, which seems a bit forlorn now, and will probably be sold.

I stroke the Blüthner every time I walk past it. It speaks to me every time I play. I’m still learning its voices and moods, but it’s warm and kind and encourages me to delve deeper into the music.

I cleaned the case the other day – gently and carefully, and brought out the beautiful inner glow of its wood finish. It’s awaiting its first tuning, but has held surprisingly well after the move and sounds glorious.

I’m over the moon, and happily still surprised by its presence every time I come down the stairs and see it waiting for me.

Excuse me, I feel some Bach coming on that needs to be played…..

Wishing you a very happy Christmas,

Kathie Touin